Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.
Jesus said: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Shield the joyous
The other night, our group completed the day with the Service of Compline. That liturgy includes the prayer included above (Keep watch, etc.). In short order, that prayer covers a wide variety of human experiences, but that night one phrase struck me in particular. After the brief liturgy, I turned to the guy next to me and asked: What do you think it means to shield the joyous? He shrugged. Me too.
I get the other petitions, but why does joy need to be shielded? I can imagine that in our culture, in our political system, in our churches, joy may seem to be in short supply. Remember H.L.Mencken’s definition of a puritan? He said a puritan was someone who is unhappy because someone somewhere is having a good time. So maybe we do need to pray that wherever joy tries to raise its head, it will be shielded, protected, nurtured, preserved.
Think with me this morning about joy. In an op-ed column on May 7, David Brooks compared joy and happiness. He wrote:
Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.
If joy is indeed a transcendence of self, in our self-centered world, maybe that’s why we need to shield it. Jesus talked about joy at the Last Supper, hardly a laugh riot. He spent his last hours, aware of what was coming on Good Friday, instructing his friends on how to navigate times ahead. In John 15, a portion of which is also included above, he spoke about his desire that his followers know the fullest kind of joy. That was, in fact, why he bothered to show up.
In another stirring summons to joy, St. Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians, sent from a first century prison cell. Stop for a minute and let your imagination picture that cell. I’m sure it was grim, Yet every other word in Paul’s letter is rejoice or joy. (The letter is just four chapters long. If you haven’t read it in a while, take time this week to do so.) The call to joy suggests both transcendence of self and harsh conditions.
More recently, we’ve been treated to a conversation between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, a record of a week they spent together, captured in The Book of Joy. As I read this book, enjoying their joy, I was mindful of the extraordinary hardship each of these men experienced, how they were so deeply sensitive to the pain of the world, how they were objects of the greatest cruelties human beings and political systems can inflict, how they could easily have been dominated by fear or resentment or rage. Yet as givers, they were able to transcend all that and find a way to joy.
So this Monday morning, a couple questions:
Where are you now finding joy in your life? The birth of a child? The beauty of creation? The love of friends and family?
And from what does that joy need to be shielded? Anger? Regret? Resentment? Anxiety? Shame? Fear? Busy schedules? Fatigue? Indifference?
I hope that joy is part of your life this Monday morning. Give thanks if that is the case. By God’s grace, may it be shielded, for you and for those whose lives you touch.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
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